Friday, 29 July 2016

Creative Spark Week 5 - Character and Story Development

Exercise on Character and Story Development
By Roz Morris

Write about a wedding, from the point of view of two characters who’ll be having very different experiences. One of them is happy to be there.
The other is churning with negative feelings.

The exercise is to describe the same scene from the two characters’ viewpoints. 
To help you enter the two different experiences, the happy character will think in shades of blue or white – imagery, descriptions of feelings, figures of speech and objects they notice. 
The angry character will use phrases, images and observations that involve the colour red. Use this mental colour palette to create two distinct experiences.

This will highlight how very differently two people might see one event, depending on their mood and emotional baggage.

Now we’ll make one of these folks into an unreliable narrator.
It’s probably expected that the spurned character, Red, will be the character readers will dismiss. Nobody believes a grouch, especially on the happiest of happy days.
But let’s be unpredictable.
Write the scene so that hey-nonny-nonny Blue is the unreliable one. Slant their account so that the reader doubts their judgement. Make them naive, or blinded by optimism.

Now look at what you’ve got. See how far the scene has come now you’ve done a few mental twists.
Did you begin by assuming Red was in the wrong?
Has the story deepened now you’ve explored both people?
You never know what you’ll find until you let the characters live.

Roz Morris is a book doctor and an author in her own right. She also has a secret identity as a ghostwriter with sales of more than 4 million copies under other names. She teaches writing masterclasses for The Guardian newspaper in London and has mined more than 20 years of writing and editing experience to create her Nail Your Novel series. 
Find her books here

All images courtesy of Julie Lewis

Friday, 22 July 2016

Creative Spark Week 4 - Point of View

Creative Spark Week 4 - First Person Point of view
By Amanda Hodgkinson

As we all know, Nabokov’s famous novel Lolita, is written from the POV of Humbert Humbert, the man who pursues Lolita. That’s to say, the novel’s story is told to us by Humbert Humbert. We hear his version of events. His voice. And Humbert, we soon learn, is an unreliable narrator. But what if Nabokov had decided to write the novel from the point of view of Lolita herself. One thing is sure, it would be a very different story…

Clearly, the writer’s choice of point of view is crucial. For this exercise on POV think of Cinderella. Traditionally, the story focuses on motherless, down on her luck, sweet and modest, Cinders. She searches for happiness in a world where everybody, it seems, is out to thwart her goals. But is that really the case?

Spend a few minutes thinking about a possible opening scene from the story. Now, write a few paragraphs from Cinderella’s POV. Use her voice as you hear it. Use the word ‘I.’ Let us really hear who Cinderella is – What kind of accent does she have? How does she see the world? What are her desires? Is she really dreaming of marrying a prince? Or does she dream of other goals? Go with whatever comes into your head. Surprise yourself. What story does Cinderella really want to tell?

Now write a scene, or perhaps the same scene, in another POV. What happens to the story if we hear it through the voice of the fairy godmother? How does Cinderella’s Stepmother tell the story? Or the prince? Remember as you write, first person POV, is exactly that. We can only know for sure what the ‘I’ of the narrator sees and thinks and hears. We cannot go into another character’s head and hear their inner thoughts.

Now that you have tried out first person POV, I hope you can see that the narrator who tells the story in this way, using the ‘I’ form, will always focus on their own ‘angle’ of the story.

Amanda Hodgkinson's debut novel 22 Britannia Road became an award-winning international bestseller. Her new book Spilt Milk came out in February 2014 (Penguin Books) and her novella Tin Town was published in the Grand Central collection of stories (Penguin US) in 2014. Meanwhile she is working on a third novel...

All images courtesy of Julie Lewis

Friday, 15 July 2016

Creative Spark Week 3 - The Essence of Character

The Essence of Character
By Joanne Furniss

Some characters make it easy for you—they will walk into the room and stand beside your computer, drumming their fingers on the desk while you write their story. A teenage character in my first novel, The Lonely Steps, appeared like this; I spotted a girl being escorted by her doting boyfriend across a crowded swimming pool in Switzerland and she high-stepped into existence as Lola, my “girl out of time”. But other characters, like Lola’s mother, may be more bashful and need to be coaxed into reality.

The central question for any character—the reason they occupy space in your story—comes down to what do they want? There is a second part of this question: and what do they need? Chances are, your plot will involve denying them what they want in order to give them what they need, so you must be clear about these driving forces in their personality.

What does s/he want?

Exercise 1: Everyone has a secret. Most are not life-changing. So why do we decide that one particular incident / fact / mistake is so powerful, we keep it hidden?


From the POV of your character, write a private letter or diary entry. The first line is: I have never told anyone this, but…

What does s/he need?

Exercise 2: Most people don’t know what they need in life—we’re too distracted by our desires—and your character is no different. Someone else can probably see into their heart more clearly than they see it themselves.


Your character walks into a café / pub / restaurant to meet someone they know well, a friend or family member. There is also a waitress/ barman / cleaner. Write a 360° description of the scene from three POVs; how the friend sees the character, how the stranger sees the character, and how the character sees the scene. 

How do these conflicting wants and needs motivate your character?

We are all driven by desires and instincts. What your characters wants and needs will affect their every decision, consciously and unconsciously.


Exercise 3: A brain-storming activity to answer this one question. The aim is to nail the issue of want / need into one clarifying sentence.

What wounded her early on in life and led her to believe a lie?

As an example, the answer to this question for my main character in The Lonely Steps is: Marlene believes that, because of her own frigid childhood, she doesn’t feel emotions deeply enough to be a good mother.

From this stage, you can develop a character arc—how your character will change (or stubbornly not!) during the story. Their actions within the plot will also be grounded in these deepest desires.

Jo Furniss is a British writer now based in Singapore. Her first novel, The Lonely Steps, is represented by the US literary agency Browne & Miller. A second domestic thriller, set in the glossy expat world of Singapore, is making progress. After working as a Broadcast Journalist at the BBC in the UK, Jo gave up the glamour of night shifts to become a serial expat and freelance writer. She is editor of, a magazine for writers in Singapore. 

All images courtesy of Julie Lewis

Friday, 8 July 2016

Creative Spark Week 2 - Plot and structure

Plot and Structure exercise
by Tracey Warr

Plot is the sequence of events that drives the story from its beginning, through it middle, to its end. ‘Somebody’s got to want something, something’s got to be standing in the way of getting it.’ (Sorkin in Yorke).

Plot plans can help you at two stages: generating the first draft and rewriting. ‘Writing is 10% writing and 90% rewriting’ (Smitley). Writing is more perseverance than inspiration. ‘Great stories fold over themselves at the midpoint and aspire to symmetry (Yorke).

Use the list of questions below as a guide-rope to spend 20 mins producing a 1-2 page max. plot summary, either of a novel or short story you have written, or one you are working on or planning to write. A few words/one sentence should be enough for each element. You are aiming for a bare bones summary. Complete as much as you can. Leave blank answers you can’t figure out quickly.

1. Who is the Hero/Heroine?

2. What are their characteristics (good and bad)? (four words)

3. What is their ‘ordinary’ world where the story begins?

4. What do they think they want – their stated want?

5. What do they want that they don’t yet realise - their inner need?

6. What happens to start the action that changes the Hero’s world for ever?

7. What is their goal now?

8. How does the Journey/story get underway? Does a friend(s) team up with Hero? What seemingly insignificant object might Hero acquire that proves important later?

9. What secondary character does Hero meet who is more familiar with the changed world and mentors and assists Hero?

10. What first three trials test and deepen Hero and allies’ relationships?

11. Everything is going well and Hero’s goals look likely to be realised but then someone yanks the rug out from under them – how?

12. The Hero does not give up and realises their inner need but thinks it’s possible to have both stated want and inner need.

13. What second three trials test and deepen Hero and allies’ relationships?

14. Someone or something very precious to the Hero dies (doesn’t have to be literal). Who/what?

15. The Hero wants to give up, going through the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining (I would be a better person if …), depression, acceptance.

16. Someone or something gives the Hero new inspiration (the seemingly insignificant object may come into play). What? The Hero has an epiphany, abandoning their stated want and going all out for their inner need.

17. Reconciliations/relationship problems are cleared up – how/what?. An attack on, or ambush of, the problem is planned – what?

18. Something totally unexpected happens – what? forcing the Hero to make the final choice, a choice the Hero would never have made if put in this situation at the beginning of the story.

When you have filled in as much as you can, study your answers. Spend 10 mins thinking about how you might develop or change this to enhance the drama of your story?

Further Reading

Booker, Christopher (2004) Seven Basic Plots, A & C Black.

Smitley, Adron J. (2011) A Stranger Comes to Town: 13 Essential Steps for Plotting Your Novel, Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.

Vogler, Christopher (2007) The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, Michael Wiese Production.

Yorke, John (2014) Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them, Penguin.

Find out more about Tracey and her work here:

All images courtesy of Julie Lewis

Friday, 1 July 2016

Creative Spark Week 1 - Story Fundamentals

Welcome to Creative Spark!

Triskele Books tried out a self-sourced creative writing course last summer.
We loved it. Now we've refined and honed and gathered support, and want to share with you.

Ten weeks of creative writing exercises from professional writing tutors, each focused on a particular element of fiction writing.
We don't want your money. We don't even want your email address.
This is FREE.

For ten weeks, every Friday, we'll post an exercise or two on a particular theme.
Each post is designed to last no longer than half an hour, but trigger ideas lasting so much longer.
Share your thoughts in the comments or keep it to yourself. Up to you.

Have fun! We did.

With grateful thanks to Ingram Spark and all our contributors.

Story Fundamentals Exercise
By Emma Darwin

A story is built of people who act, and what makes us keep reading is that they act in ways which we can believe, for reasons we can believe in. But it’s not always easy to hit on that story-driving combination of convincing actions in a convincing world, so this exercise starts with the most basic job: evoking physical convincingness, and develops outwards from there.

1) Think of an object which you’ve never seen, but know must exist or have existed. It might be a toy your German grandfather left behind when he came to England on the Kindertransport, the gun that was used to assassinate Anwar Sadat, or the fridge on the Space Shuttle.
Don’t worry about being accurate.
Make notes to evoke its physical presence.
Make sure you’ve checked in with all six senses including kinaesthesia (what’s it like to pick up, hold, throw, sit on?).

2) Our first, default ideas are often the least likely to bring out the best writing, so start imagining outwards from that moment in the object’s life. Where else might it have been? And where else again?
Maybe your grandfather’s toy had been his grandmother’s. Maybe the gun was bought on the black market in Moscow. Maybe the fridge had to be specially imported from a tiny specialist company in Guatemala.

3) When you’ve found an atmospheric place, pick one of the people who owned or had custody of your object.
Write some notes to bring this Character A into focus: who they are, their job, personality and so on, and how they feel about the object.
Now, your character A must sell or give the object to Character B.

4) Start writing the scene at the point where they meet.
Does A want to or not? Is B willing to take it, or not?
What kind of negotiations or arguments might result? Does A get to hand it over, or not?

Good luck!


Novelist and creative writing tutor Emma lives in South London. Her latest book is Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction, while her novels have been long and short-listed for many awards. She also writes short fiction and blogs about writing at This Itch of Writing: the blog

All images courtesy of Julie Lewis